How does landfill and litter affect our wildlife?

Filed in Blog by on January 30, 2009 14 Comments
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wildlife-trustAs I’ve said on previous posts; we all have our reasons for attempting to reduce our rubbish. For us, it was a combination of things with wildlife, conservation and the environment playing a very important role in our decision to attempt a zero waste lifestyle.

I had chance this week to have a quick chat with Rosalind Cookson. She is Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust’s ‘Don’t waste wildlife‘ project manager.

I wanted to ask her about litter, the landfill and wildlife, as well as catch up with her particular passion which is composting.

MZW We’re at the end of zero waste week in Gloucestershire; what impact can landfill waste have on our wildlife?

RC Landfill takes up space that could otherwise be a wildlife habitat. It also gives off harmful emissions including methane and produces toxic slime called leachate which harms the environment for all of us.

MZW And what about litter – how can that effect wildlife?

RC Litter can be harmful to wildlife and people.  Broken bottles can injure and also small mammals can get stuck inside bottles, cans and other containers.
Animals and birds can get stuck in plastic bags. Wildlife can also eat litter by mistake which can cause death.

MZW You promote composting with your ‘Don’t Waste Wildlife’ campaign. Why is composting so important for people to get involved with?

RC The motivation for Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust campaigning for composting is simple – compost helps to make healthy soil in gardens, and that soil grows healthy plant life which feed and provide shelter for garden wildlife.

There is also a more direct link to composting and wildlife. Everyone knows how hedgehogs love the ingredients of a bonfire. If these fires aren’t lit and are left as slowly composting piles of leaves, woody pruning and logs our hedgehogs would stand a much better chance. Examples of this kind are a plenty. The song thrush relishes a meal from a freshly spread compost heap.  They are in themselves, home to a myriad of wildlife from the tiniest fungi to the slow worm.

So there we have it. There are lots of reasons for trying to reduce our landfill waste, from saving money to protecting the environment and everything in between.
Later in the year, when the weather warms up a bit and our thoughts turn to the garden, I’ll be catching up with Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust again to get some top tips on composting. In the meantime, you can download some helpful information from their site and read some articles online.

What is your main motivator for reducing waste?


About the Author ()

I am a long time supporter of the Green and Sustainable lifestyle. After being caught in the Boscastle floods in 2004, our family begun a journey to respect and promote the importance of Earth's fragile ecosystem, that focussed on reducing waste. Inspired by the beauty and resourcefulness of this wonderful planet, I have published numerous magazine articles on green issues and the author of four books.

Comments (14)

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  1. John Costigane says:

    Landfill causes many problems. Another wildlife type problem is the attraction of seagulls to the food scraps which inevitably lie on the surface of a site. This situation could be transformed by the removal of all food streams from landfill. Food waste collection from the home, superstore organised AD sites and collections from all other food waste sources should be started. The plastic packaging extensively used in supermarket food packaging will lower the quality of resultant digestate : another downside to plastic packaging waste.

    My main reason for waste reduction is to make a contribution to Zero Waste, the future for all societies. It may be insignificant individually but with more and more people taking-up the challenge and increasing good contacts with businesses, having a similar outlook, we can at least hope for progress.

  2. Mrs Green says:

    John – good point about the seagulls. On holiday last year, we watched them tear open rubbish bags; scattering the contents.
    We even saw one pick up a polystyrene container, open it up by pecking at it with its beak, then shaking vigorously from side to side until the left over food in there finally spilled out to be savoured.
    It was clearly not the first time this had been done, but how many of them swallow pieces of polystyrene or scatter them onto the beach in the process?

  3. Poppy says:

    I confess to going on a tour of one of our local tip’s this week and believe me, I have never, ever seen so many seagulls in my life! They weren’t alone however, there were also a large amount of Crows and squabbling flocks of Starlings. Absolutely astounding!

    I’m now of the opinion that everyone should visit a similar establishment to see the true affect of our wasteful society. It just can’t go on! It’s scarey!

    These desolate landscapes are also a haven for wildlife however, as large parts of them remain untouched for long periods of time. So it’s not all bad news, so long as the animals don’t get tied up in the sort of things that Rosalind mentions or find themselves choking on something
    🙁 It’s a very hard battle and as I said, everyone should get along to see the real story.

  4. Philip Booth says:

    Great to see you featured in The Citizen promoting the Zero Waste Challenge. Let’s hope this week does lots to make folk think about what they throw out…

  5. Katy says:

    Interesting point about landfill affecting wildlife, definitely. It’s a good one to make as a lot of people will probably say “well I don’t litter, so affecting wildlife isn’t my problem”.

    I wish I could encourage hedgehogs to move into my garden! Perhaps this year’s project should be to construct a heap area instead of my magic green dalek, but as we have mostly (raw vegetable + fruit) food scraps (not much of a garden to make garden waste) I do worry about attracting rats.

  6. Mrs Green says:

    @Poppy: Poppy, LMG has been asking to visit a landfill site, but I think I would just stand there in floods of tears. I know Mrs A went last year and said it was a real eye-opener. I can’t begin to imagine what it is like, but I know I would be adding a few kleenex to the pile if I ever pluck up the courage to go.

    @Katy: Katy there are several preventative steps you can take to reduce your risks of rats. No cooked food in the compost, siting the compost away from hedges, fences and walls (rats don’t like open spaces, they prefer to run along the side of something), keep the pile moist and keep disturbing the pile so it is not as attractive to them. Rats like peace and quiet, so keep turning the pile, which is better for the compost anyway, and they shouldn’t bother nesting in there.

    I hope you manage to attract some hedgehogs. We FINALLY had some last year _ I’ve lived here for 9 years and these were the first ones we saw. We had a family of them; they were so cute 🙂 (but contrary to popular belief; too many slugs are really bad for them)

  7. Mrs Green says:

    @Philip Booth: Hi Philip – great to see you here again and thank you for the mention on your blog this week.
    We went to a different butcher today with our plastic containers for reuse and the guy said ‘Oh yes! It’s zero waste week isn’t it!?’ We were very pleased!
    With 1500 households taking part, let’s hope there is some significant change to landfill waste this week.

  8. maisie says:

    Our tip which has recently closed used to have the “flocks of seagulls” permanently overhead and there was always an odour as you drove past now it is quiet and no smell.

    I will have to check where they now take our landfill rubbish.

  9. Great interview Mrs G. During my stint at the school last week, I showed the kids the photos of landfill that I took when I visited there last year. It was a good opportunity to revisit it in my mind, describing to the little ones about the stuff that I saw and the stench. Yes it was a true eye-opener, and it was the pivotal point where I really knew there was no going back. One of the worst elements for me was to see all that stuff that had been discarded but could have been reused or recycled. It really highlighted the true meaning of waste.

    In the photos that I showed last week, the kids spotted lots of paper half-buried amongst the soil. They understood that recycling that paper could have saved more trees from being cut down. They talked about the importance of trees absorbing the CO2 and providing a habitat for wildlife.

    They also knew that the stench of the rubbish came from rotten food that had been grown, packaged and transported all using up energy. And they learned about how burying this in landfill caused methane and how the leachate runs into the water table. And like true eco-warriors they want to do something about it.

    Even though it made me sad at the time. I’m glad I had the opportunity to go. I agree with Poppy, it would certainly help if more people who care about such things could get a chance to visit. Seeing something like that lives on forever.

  10. Mrs Green says:

    Mrs A, it must have been amazing to show the children pictures of the landfill; it takes away some of the mystery and gives them an opportunity to see the reality of throwing things in the bin.
    It sounds like they already knew a lot, which is encouraging and I’m sure your lessons have stuck in their minds. You’re doing such a great job working with this generation 🙂

  11. Rosalind Cookson says:


    It’s Rosalind from the Wildlife Trust here. It is great to see that so many of you are motivated in your attempts for Zero Waste by the desire to help wildlife. We all too often divorce ourselves from our association with the environment around us by thinking we can live in our human world without considering the wildlife around us. I believe that realising that we are all part of the same eco-system is a very important step for us all to take and when we have taken that step and this step is where the real changes in the choices for life which we make really start to happen.

    Katy, I can send you our fact sheet about rats and composting if you email me your details, Mrs Green has very kindly added a link to our website about or you can leave your request on our hotline 01452 313761 I can also send you some info on attracting different types of wildlife to your garden, and in particular hedgehogs.

    If you want to make an area for hedgehogs a good start would be to have a heap that you never disturb where you put twigs and logs and woody prunings, leaves and the odd weed that you don’t want to put in your compost bin (we’ve got leaflets about what to do with weeds too if anyone is interested). The fact that the heap isn’t disturbed will be more attractive to the hedgehog. You will also attract food for the hedgehogs in the heap too so you’ll be creating a lovely cosy hotel for them. You might find that you don’t get hedgehogs but something else equally exciting and quite unexpected, that is the joy of gardening for wildlife. Another good tip for all garden wildlife is not to use slug pellets as garden wildlife love to eat the slugs and snails and you end up killing your garden friends along with the pests. Check out the hedgehog preservation society website for more info you can learn there about creating a hedgehog house!

    Almost Mrs Average, sounds like you are a real inspiration to the children in your school. We are able to come into schools to help them to compost fruit and veg waste and also to do workshops with the children. As above use the link from the site or the number above if you are interested.

    Also I forgot to mention in my interview that the landfill sites are now managed very well and they do a lot to mitigate the damage that we cause by being so wasteful. Yes, so it isn’t all bad as Poppy said.

    As for me, and my Zero Waste challenge, I finally sorted out the plastic bag situation and got myself sorted with reusable bags and have organised a system so I don’t leave them at home. I can’t believe it has taken me so long to make that change!

    I look forward to seeing more of your comments over the coming week.


  12. Mrs Green says:

    Hi Rosalind; a warm welcome to you. Thank you for commenting here, we know you are busy.

    You wrote a particularly poignant comment:

    “We all too often divorce ourselves from our association with the environment around us by thinking we can live in our human world without considering the wildlife around us. I believe that realising that we are all part of the same eco-system is a very important step for us all to take”

    This is so true and I wanted to interview you because people have many different reasons for reducing their rubbish. A concern for the environment and wildlife is one of many and I hope your words will inspire many others.

    In fact, this interview has already been quoted on a blog in America! I’ll be posting about that soon 🙂

    Well done on making the step to sort out your reusable bags!

  13. John Costigane says:

    Hi Mrs Green,

    I have just read the BBC’s most bare-faced backing of EfW – Incineration on their news site with no mention of the various negative aspects. Their articles on recycling etc always hint at incineration as a quick fix.

    This bias does nothing for the EfW cause rather it shows-up the BBC as a backer of vested interests over popular concerns.

  14. Mrs Green says:

    Hi John, I shall have to go and search that one out and have a read. Everyone wants a quick fix on all aspects of life and incineration is no different. There are not many who look forward to the possible implications of such drastic measures.

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